‘Lie’ focus of Blagg’s new trial bid
A woman who helped lead critics of former Grand Junction City Councilor Rick Brainard is on the defensive as her credibility as a juror in one of the region’s most notorious murder trials has been called into question in a court filing.
In a renewed motion for a new trial filed on behalf of convicted killer Michael Blagg, attorneys argue a juror, Marilyn Charlesworth, lied when she represented during jury selection before Blagg’s 2004 trial that she had never been a victim of domestic violence.
That’s because Charlesworth spoke at a public hearing of the Grand Junction City Council — among several local residents on April 17 seeking Brainard’s resignation — and told a very different story.
“My driving force was I was a victim of domestic violence for 10 years,” Charlesworth said during the City Council’s April hearing, among several references she made to past violence. “I got out. I’m not a victim, but a survivor.”
In 2004, however, Charlesworth answered “no” on a juror questionnaire in response to a question: “Have you, a family member or close friend ever been involved in domestic violence? If so, state who, when and under what circumstances…”
In an interview with The Daily Sentinel, Charlesworth denied lying in 2004 or 2013.
A transcript of Charlesworth’s statements during the council’s April public hearing is included in a renewed motion for a new trial filed by attorneys with the Colorado Public Defender’s Office.
“The fact that (Charlesworth) was seemingly willing to commit perjury to be seated on Mr. Blagg’s jury demonstrates a prejudicial bias,” the defense motion reads. “Alone or in combination with the other nondisclosures, this additional misrepresentation warrants a new trial in this case.”
Mesa County Chief Judge David Bottger is expected on Tuesday to schedule a hearing on the motion.
Prosecutors’ theory of the Blagg murder was rooted in domestic violence arising from marital discord, the defense filing notes.
“Indeed, during individual questioning of one juror, the district attorney — Frank Daniels — referred to the allegations in this case as the ‘ultimate ... domestic violence situation,’ ” the filing reads.
Blagg, now 50, is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for his conviction in the November 2001 murder of his wife, Jennifer, at the family’s Redlands home. Their daughter, Abby, 6, was reported missing and is presumed dead. No charges were filed in connection with her disappearance.
After 23 days of testimony, a Mesa County jury in April 2004 convicted Blagg of first-degree murder after deliberation and several lesser counts.
EARLIER MOTION DENIED
Charlesworth’s jury service — specifically vision problems she didn’t disclose during jury selection — came under fire in defense filings starting in 2005. Blagg’s defense highlighted passages from a notebook Charlesworth kept during the trial that said, among other things, “I can’t see jack.”
Charlesworth, who testified on the issue in 2010, rejected suggestions her condition impacted her ability to evaluate evidence. Charlesworth testified her vision during Blagg’s trial was, at best, 20/40, meaning she was able to see at 20 feet what a person with corrected vision could see 40 feet away.
The defense also said she didn’t disclose during jury selection her prior use of the anti-anxiety drug, Xanax. The prosecution in Blagg’s case noted Blagg was receiving treatment for anxiety in the weeks leading up to Jennifer Blagg’s murder.
The defense’s motion for a new trial says Charlesworth’s primary care physician also treated the Blagg family and prescribed Xanax to them. She didn’t disclose the doctor relationship during jury selection.
Regardless, Bottger issued a ruling in 2010 denying the new trial.
“(Charlesworth’s) refusal to disclose her knowledge of and experience with the anti-anxiety medication is troubling because it was deliberate,” the judge said in an order. “However, the defense cites no authority, and I am aware of none in Colorado, that a deliberate nondisclosure is conclusive proof of bias requiring a new trial.”
The order continued: “Defendant certainly did not receive a perfect trial. Nonetheless, (Charlesworth’s) lack of candor on a side issue which became a non-issue did not deprive him of a fair trial.”
Bottger’s 2010 order laid out the standard to order a new trial: Blagg’s lawyers must show “actual bias” or “prejudice.”
‘NEVER BEEN HIT’
Charlesworth isn’t happy she’s being dragged back into the limelight.
But she contacted the Sentinel about the matter late last week, saying she’s angry that a juror would be treated so badly. Blagg’s attorneys are trying to make hay out of nothing, she said.
Despite the information in the defense filing, Charlesworth said she didn’t lie in Bottger’s courtroom nine years ago, nor when she spoke at the City Council’s April 17 hearing in arguing for Brainard’s resignation.
Brainard, who faced a possible recall election after pleading guilty to domestic violence, resigned from the City Council last month.
Charlesworth said she told Mesa County prosecutors, who interviewed her last week, that she did lie at the council hearing. She said she made that statement to prosecutors because she wanted to avoid being drawn into Blagg’s case yet again.
“Emotional abuse is part of domestic violence, but at the time when I filled out that questionnaire, I truly did not consider myself a domestic violence victim,” she said. “I don’t even like the word, so I answered that honestly. It was not until I got involved with this Brainard thing and started talking with all these other women and listening to their stories. It came to my realization that, I lived with two drunks, those weren’t pleasant marriages. Was I emotionally abused? Absolutely. I divorced them and walked away and I did not feel like a victim at the time.”
“I have never been hit,” she added.
The District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the matter.